Friday December 14, 2012

DUMMERSTON -- A rabid skunk has been discovered in East Dummerston, prompting public health officials to remind residents to vaccinate their pets and livestock.

It is just the second confirmed rabies case in Windham County this year, according to state Department of Health statistics. But overall, officials say such incidents are not rare.

"We do hear about them a lot," said Robert Stirewalt, a health department spokesman. "The veterinarians report them to us."

The skunk was found in the Falk Road area. Describing the animal as "feisty," Dr. Robert Johnson -- Vermont’s public health veterinarian -- said the skunk "had quills in its face and was caught in a Havahart trap near some chickens."

The case was confirmed Thursday but happened several days ago, as there was a delay in getting the skunk tested at the health department’s laboratory.

"The skunk went to the local hospital for courier transport to the lab, but it smelled so bad it was rejected by the courier," Johnson wrote in an e-mail.

"So we got it out of the hospital and back to the veterinarian so it could be decapped and deodorized, then it was shipped up by the health department via UPS to the laboratory."

Officials reiterated that there are several rabies-related resources for residents: The Vermont rabies hotline is 1-800-472-2437 (1-800-4-RABIES).

Also, there is information about rabies prevention, vaccination and other matters available at http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/rabies/Rabies.aspx.

The state offers three tips for preventing the fatal viral disease:

-- Vaccinate domestic pets and livestock. There is a vaccine clinic directory on the state’s website.

-- Know who to call in your community: Officials advise contacting a town health officer.

-- Avoid wildlife. "If you think you have found orphaned wildlife, don’t touch the animal," the health department warns. Instead, residents should call the hotline or their area’s game warden; a warden directory also is available on the state’s website.

The health department says any animal that has been wounded by a wild animal that’s not available for testing "must be regarded as having been exposed to rabies."

"No one can tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it," officials warn. "Rabid animals may seem normal or can be lethargic or aggressive. Usually, there is a change in normal behavior."

The number of animals that tested positive for rabies in Windham County has varied widely over the past five years, the state’s database shows. The only other local rabies report in 2012 came in October in Rockingham, where officials found a rabid cat.

There were three Windham County cases in 2011 and none in 2010. But 2009 saw 11 reports, and 2008 was by far the busiest with 21.

The health department says rabies is found mainly in wildlife and especially in raccoons, foxes, bats, skunks and woodchucks.

The raccoon has been the most common culprit in Windham County, accounting for 20 of the 36 positive tests since 2008. Skunks come in second with eight.

There also were three bats, three foxes, the cat from Rockingham earlier this year and a rabid otter found in Guilford in 2008.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.